New Habitable Kepler World --"Human Eyes Found It Hidden in the Data"

NASA  Goddard

NASA Goddard

Just nine months after its launch, NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has found at least eight planets, with more than 300 planetary candidates waiting in the wings. It has since been replaced by NASA's new space telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Data gathered during the course of its scientific mission, however, paved way to the discovery of a new exoplanet.

This year, Kevin Hardegree-Ullman, postdoctoral scholar in astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, announced that the Spitzer space telescope followed up on that discovery and discovered a sixth planet, K2-138 g, smaller than Neptune, that orbits the star every 42 days.

The new planet's surface reaches about 300℉, which, according to the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, is "relatively cool", considering the proximity to its star, which is nearly as bright as our Sun. The recently discovered world is categorized as a "sub-Neptune", about three times larger than Earth but approximately 23 times as massive.

Kepler has discovered more than 2,600 confirmed planets, out of which 50 are of the same size and temperature as the Earth.

Johanna Teske, a Hubble fellow and co-author of the report, said: "I'm very interested to know whether [it] has an Earth-like density to match its Earth-like radius - this will contribute to our understanding whether Earth-sized planets have diverse compositions or are all roughly similar to Earth".

There is also evidence that a second planet could exist in this system with a 7.8-day orbit - which could be the first Earth-size planet dicovered by TESS.

Those researchers had also detected a signal, but they couldn't conclusively attribute it to a planet, Dragomir said. The findings from TESS are meant to provide a guide for more detailed observations by space telescopes yet to be built, including the European Space Agency's CHEOPS planet-hunting probe and NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. Revealed in a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), planet Kepler-10c is 17 times heavier than the Earth, and may require scientists to rethink their ideas on planet formation and the likelihood of life in our galaxy.

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"Some of the most interesting science occurs in the early days of a supernova, which has been very hard to observe before TESS", said Michael Fausnaugh, a TESS researcher at the MIT Kavli Institute.

A different group of astronomers had studied the HD 21749 system a decade ago using HARPS, which finds planets by noticing the tiny wobbles that their gravitational tugs induce in their host stars.

TESS does this work by carving the sky up into overlapping sectors, studying each one for 27 days at a time.

The new world, named K2-288Bb, was found using data from NASA's now defunct Kepler space telescope. Indeed, HD 21749b is very far-flung for TESS; two other smallish worlds found by the mission have orbital periods of 11 hours and 6.3 days, respectively.

TESS is considered to be a "bridge to the future", finding exoplanet candidates to study in more detail. Even if TESS records the looked-for pattern of dimming and brightening, astronomers have to make ground-based observations to confirm that what they're seeing is truly an exoplanet rather than some other type of phenomenon.

Kepler was missing the data due to slight changes when it was repositioned in space.

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